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VG Story Design Blog

Analyzing Story in Games

Great story is the final frontier of gaming. Follow this blog as we delve into the depths of the game/story relationship and discover ways to advance gaming as an art form.

Metal Gear Solid 4 — Cliches of the Patriots

June 10, 2008 –

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The Metal Gear series is one of gaming’s great narrative misfires. While the gameplay and cinematic directing are always top notch, the dialogue is a virtual wiki of tired cliches and mediocre voice acting. Check out the Metal Gear Solid 4 trailer for yourself.

Witness these moments of cliche greatness: “The system is mine!” says the villain with clenched fist raised to the heavens. “Die, Snake, hahahaha!” is another gem. Maniacal laughter? Really? Didn’t Dr. Evil make fun of this exact cliche three movies in a row? It’s just shocking to see these amateur mistakes in a game of this quality.

One would have hoped the success of the Jason Bourne series had taken us to a new level of realistic villainy. True government antagonists are, after all, pretty savvy folk who don’t go around laughing and twirling their mustaches. Same goes for the recent James Bond villains, who know every minute spent chortling to oneself is a minute that could be spent crushing the hero’s manhood.

Alas, Metal Gear 4 reminds us why dedicated writers in games are desperately needed, even if it’s just to take a red pen to every cliche in sight. Same goes for professional voice acting and directing. Hand Brian Cox or Gary Oldman a bag of money and have them improv these scenes. I have no doubt their freestyles wouldn’t be half as bad.

That said, check out the first 10 minutes of gameplay footage — awesome, right? Dialogue always sounds better when you don’t know what’s being said.

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Dead Space — Guys Who Get It

June 1, 2008 –

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EA’s dev team behind Dead Space, a space horror shooter channeling all that’s good and wholesome in Paul WS Anderson’s Event Horizon, is championing the story-first approach to game development. While a space horror with a single protagonist and legions of spiny-armed demons isn’t exactly fertile ground for film-worthy dialogue, the dev team has succeeded in creating an interesting backstory in the form of surprisingly well produced and voiced comic-videos. Engaging story? Absolutely.

Check out a feature with the game designers where they talk about developing story first — not last — and using a character-centric model to drive horror. “The more you know about the characters, the more you’re informed on what they would do in a certain situation.” While the main plot has yet to be revealed, if the comics are anything to go by, Dead Space will be the best conceived space horror to hit gaming in ages.

“Right from the beginning, we wanted to make a really good story…a really, really strong story, because that’s the kind of game we wanted to play.” Amen, brother.

Resident Evil 5 Trailer — Defending the Dairy Queen

June 1, 2008 –

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The Resident Evil 5 trailers 1 and 2 are live and stirring up all kinds of controversy. So what can we divine about RE5’s story?

First, watch the trailers if you haven’t already — RE5 is setting the bar for amazingly realistic mo-cap and animation. And it’s not just the squid-in-mouth stuff that’s impressive, but the subtle body motions and rag-doll physics that scream next next-gen (the slow-mo shotgun blast on the roof filled my heart with cinematic glee).

As for the story, after watching both trailers, it seems RE5 suffers from a disconnect between the horrific environment and the character motivation. The RE5 environment, like all previous games, is amazing — terrifying atmosphere, shocking intensity and hyper-realistic zombification. But the main character, Chris Redfield, acts like he’s policing an In-And-Out on Sunset Blvd.

“I’ve got a job to do and I’m going to see it through,” says Chris with his waiter-turned-actor accent. Is this the same Chris, covered in roasted zombie flesh, from previous games? One would think he’d be a little more, I don’t know, pissed about being attacked by legions of the damned yet again, and this time in a place hotter and dirtier. One would also think the psychological trauma from killing masses of undead men, women and children in previous episodes would be evident in his attitude to euthanizing an entire village of bottom 5%ers.

But, no, Chris sounds like a 20-something actor in Hollywood. The actor probably has talent, but, in my opinion, was an entirely wrong choice for a character who has seen more hearts of darkness than Colonel Kurtz.

As for plot, the moment Chris said, “I’m just doing my job” all kinds of warning bells went off in my head. Just doing his job? Does he really have no opinion about the level of crap he’s in? How about, “I hope I can save people from this terrible fate” or “Where the hell is the UN” or “DiCaprio can kiss my white ass.” Anything but “Here we go again!”

The message “I’m just doing my job” tells the audience is that this is a character entirely removed from the plot. Great characters are instrumental to the inciting incident — if not the instigators themselves — but Chris Redfield seems like he just got off a yuppie safari tour.

Also, the female character, another obvious Los Angeles voice actor, seemed entirely out of place. “I may not be as big as you, but I can still hold my own.” To which Chris replies, “No worries, my last partner was a woman too.” To me, that is quite possibly the strangest conversation to be having while chainsaw wielding freaks roam the streets. Instead of the dreaded gender equality conversation, Chris would say, “Thank Christ you have a gun!” I’d imagine he’s less worried about offending her feminine sensibilities and more worried about the undead Idi Amin sucking his spleen juices.

That said, the game is visually fantastic. It’s interesting to see that, once again, most of the first half of the trailer is pure story. Only in the second half do we see actual gameplay footage. Story isn’t important in games? It’s clearly important in game marketing.

VG Story Design Method

June 1, 2008 –

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